Despite being theorised almost 80 years ago, dark matter still remains deeply mysterious because it can not be detected directly.
Astrophysicists generally think that supermassive black holes, like the one at the center of the Milky Way, release jets that interact with surrounding dark matter. This interaction is thought to be the source of high-energy gamma rays that satellites like Fermi can detect. What satellites can see are the photons produced when these jets interact with dark matter.
To trace invisible dark matter , the researchers searched for signs of its gravitational tug on other matter. They measured an effect called gravitational lensing, which occurs when gravity from a massive body bends space-time, causing light to travel along a curved path through space and appear distorted when it reaches Earth.
Baryonic matter could still make up the dark matter if it were all tied up in brown dwarfs or in small, dense chunks of heavy elements. These possibilities are known as massive compact halo objects, or "MACHOs ". But the most common view is that dark matter is not baryonic at all, but that it is made up of other, more exotic particles like axions or WIMPS (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles) .
By fitting a theoretical model of the composition of the Universe to the combined set of cosmological observations, scientists have come up with the composition that we described above, ~70% dark energy, ~25% dark matter, ~5% normal matter.
There are some fairly strong arguments based on the production of the light elements in the Big Bang indicating that the majority of the dark matter cannot be ordinary matter or antimatter (which physicists call "baryonic matter"), and thus that the majority of the mass of the Universe is in a form very different from the matter that makes up us and the world around us (physicists call this "non-baryonic matter"). If that is true, then the matter that we are made of (baryonic matter) is but a small impurity compared to the dominant matter in the universe (non-baryonic matter). As someone has put it, "not only are we not the center of the Universe, we aren't even made of the right stuff!"
Dark matter is the general term for matter that we cannot see to this point with our telescopes, but that we know must be there because we see its gravitational influence on the rest of the Universe. Many different experiments indicate that there is probably 10 times more matter in the Universe (because we see its gravitational influence) than the matter that we see. Thus, dark matter is basically what the Universe is made out of, but we don't yet know what it is!
For a significant clue to the composition of the dark matter, we look to the abundance of the heavier isotope of hydrogen, weighing twice the mass, called deuterium, created during the big bang. There is no alternative source for the extra deuterium other than the big bang, since stars destroy deuterium rather than produce it. By now, a considerable fraction of any primordial deuterium present at the birth of the galaxy would have been destroyed inside stars. This is confirmed by observation: interstellar clouds contain deuterium, as do gravitationally-powered stars that have not yet developed nuclear burning cores; on the other hand, evolved stars have no deuterium.
Nearly 50 years ago, Fritz Zwicky realized that clusters of galaxies consisted predominantly of matter in some nonluminous form. The search for dark matter has dominated cosmology for half a century. Precise measurements were obtained over 20 years ago, when dark matter was first mapped in galaxy halos. Only recently has the existence of dark matter over much larger scales than even galaxy clusters been confirmed.
One alternative to dark matter is known as Modified Newtonian Dynamics, or MOND, which tweaks how gravity works at large scales to help explain the motions of stars and galaxies that researchers observe.